• John Jantak

Ste. Anne’s war veterans’ class action lawsuit will proceed

A class-action lawsuit that was launched by resident Wolf Solkin against Ste. Anne’s Veterans’ Hospital was approved by Quebec Superior Court last Wednesday, February 20.

“It means our case merits class action status and I’m certified as the appropriate representative of the class,” said Solkin. “The decision was made by the Honourable Donald Bisson in less than three hours which was striking especially since the judge said it could take three to 10 days. The 20-page report was totally in our favour,” Solkin told The Journal during an interview February 26.

Hospital transfer

The lawsuit against the provincial and federal concerns an alleged decline in the level and quality of services being given to war veterans after the hospital, which was formerly under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government through Veteran’s Affairs Canada, was transferred to the province of Quebec on April 1, 2016. “They promised a ‘seamless transition,’” said Solkin.

On the day of the transfer, about 400 staff members from a total of 1,000 hospital personnel left their positions over two days and never returned, according to Solkin. “It was very difficult to maintain the primary promise in the transition agreement which stated that the pre-existing level of care would not be diminished or deteriorated in any way and would remain the same,” he said.

Staff shortage

The staff shortage was exacerbated when former Health Minister Gaétan Barrette began instituting major budgetary and healthcare reforms across the province at the time. “We were promised by the previous health minister in a press conference with the federal minister of health that Ste. Anne’s would remain a ‘standalone institution,’” said Solkin.

Instead, Ste. Anne’s Hospital was merged with several other institutions to become a part of the Montreal West Island Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (CIUSSS). “We were no longer one standalone institution,” said Solkin. “We were just one of eight services thrown into the pot.”

Inadequately trained personnel

He said while efforts have been made to find new personnel, many new employees only speak French and do not have the proper education and training to adequately deal with veterans’ needs, especially among orderlies. “It’s at a much lower standard than we had been accustomed to,” said Solkin.

“There’s a lower staff-to-patient ratio. An orderly who used to have six patients now has 10 or 11 patients. It affects our quality of care because they don’t have the time or energy or focus,” he added.

Solkin’s experience

Solkin, 96, uses an automated wheel chair to get around and gave a graphic personal example to illustrate how bad the service has been at times. “I’ve sat here in my own feces-filled diaper for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour or more on more than one occasion ringing my bell to get out of my own crap without anyone available to come and do it for me,” he said.

Other patients have fallen to the floor and been unable to get attention because there was no one around to look in on them, said Solkin.

“I’ve heard people next door to me yell ‘help, help, help,’ because they couldn’t reach their bell and I had to ring my bell to get someone to see me and told them to look in on the guy next door,” he said.

Medical service cuts

Cuts to specialized medical services including an on-site cardiologist and the closure of the blood lab have also bothered Solkin. His pleas to the various levels of the federal and provincial governments and the CIUSSS to look into the situation have gone mostly unanswered, he said.

“I’ve been doing this for over two-and-a-half years now and I either get no response or I get a placebo cookie-cutter answer, so much so that the date of the letter isn’t typed in. It’s rubber-stamped. How stupid do they think we are? I may have lost all my teeth but I still have all my marbles,” said Solkin.

Average patient age 93